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When everyone has a home

Housing and debt helpline for Northern Ireland – 028 9024 5640

Key policy recommendations to protect private tenants from losing their homes

Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) have both recently published research relating to the experiences of people living in the private rented sector (PRS).  Both organisations have recommended improvements in order to protect tenants from affordability issues and disrepair, and ultimately help prevent people from losing their home.

Affordability

Over 40,000 tenants were evicted from their homes across England and Wales by landlords in 2015; an increase of a third since 2003 and the highest level recorded, according to the latest available figures in research conducted by JRF

JRF set out to explore the reasons for this rapid increase in evictions and found that the increase in repossessions to be almost entirely due to the increasing use of ‘no fault’ evictions.  ‘No fault’ evictions allow landlords to evict a private tenant after the end of the fixed term without giving a reason, and without any wrongdoing on the part of the tenant.

When the researchers asked tenants what they believed to be the cause of their no fault eviction, over 40% said it related to affordability – citing either that the landlord wanted to raise the rent, their income had fallen and the landlord pre-empted rent arrears, or that they had fallen behind on the rent.  JRF found that the most commonly stated reason for struggling to pay the rent was administrative problems with housing benefit causing a delay in payment.

JRF identifies that changes in welfare benefits have combined to make rents unaffordable to benefit claimants in many areas. As a result, tenants on low incomes are being evicted because their benefits do not pay market rents and they are unable to pay the shortfall, or afford alternative homes in the private rented sector, or access social housing. 

JRF calls on the government to end the freezing of local housing allowance rates and to uprate housing benefit in line with local rents.

Disrepair

Research carried out by CAB has identified widespread problems getting repairs carried out in the PRS.  The research found that 2 in 5 tenants have waited longer than is reasonable for repairs their landlord has a legal responsibility to carry out.  Many of these instances were urgent repairs or emergencies that threatened the tenant’s health and safety.  When tenants found it difficult to get repairs carried out, few people used the redress methods available to them:

  • 5% reported disrepair to their council’s Environmental Health Team
  • 1% applied to court to claim compensation

Instead, 31% tenants fixed the disrepair themselves, 13% paid for the repair out of their own pocket and 7% relocated due to the disrepair. 

CAB conclude that PRS tenants face these problems because of inadequate consumer rights to redress in the sector. 

CAB recommends that there be a requirement for rental properties to have a minimum health and safety certificate and a way for tenants to request early termination of a fixed term tenancy if the landlord fails to uphold their legal responsibilities.

Dispute resolution

In addition to the issue specific recommendations JRF and CAB have made to protect tenants from affordability issues and disrepair, both research papers discuss the need for measures which prevent and resolve disputes between landlords and tenants.  Both JRF and CAB endorse the positive impact of specialist support from a third person, which aids negotiation and improves communication between the parties:

“There were examples of tenants explaining the situation to their landlords, either individually or with the help of […] support agencies, and the landlords being flexible.” (JRF; p.34)

CAB also highlighted the need for clear information about housing rights, as 35% of tenants they spoke to said lack of knowledge about their rights made negotiating with a landlord more difficult.  When both parties understand their legal rights and responsibilities, it can prevent some disputes from arising in the first place. 

CAB recommend the introduction of a clear and simple alternative dispute resolution process to resolve disrepair disputes when they do arise in the PRS.

Improving the private rented sector in Northern Ireland

Housing Rights’ annual private rented sector conference on 15 November 2017 will consider alternative dispute resolution and the role it has within the PRS.  The programme will look at key issues facing the sector, showcase good practice from other jurisdictions, and stimulate policy debate.

Confirmed speakers to date include:

  • Brian Robson, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • John Blackwood, Scottish Association of Landlords
  • Bethan Jones, Rent Smart Wales
  • Natasha Miller, Letting Agent Plus
  • Jon Anderson, Choice Housing

Reserve your place by booking online or email frances@housingrights.org.uk

Tagged In

Private Tenants Forum

Author

Lizzie Scott